By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President
We all know the challenge to maintain salaries and benefits and keep our members working has never been more difficult. But in spite of difficulties, our members and local leaders continue to organize and win victories.
In the face of a disastrous state budget and those who would turn public education into a non-union, low-wage institution, your activism and commitment to CFT goals have made us a leading union in the fight for progressive education reform, and economic and social justice.
The past year has seen major accomplishments and occasional setbacks. One large step forward has been the Strategic Campaign Initiative. The SCI was adopted by the Executive Council last summer to maximize CFT resources as well as coordinate our political and organizing work.
Through extensive outreach to our locals, CFT has identified organizing priorities that will help shape the direction the union takes in coming years. While the labor movement continues to see its ranks decline, CFT, with major support from the AFT,
is looking to aggressively organize new members.
On the legislative front, CFT celebrated many successes including passage of the Bilingual Seal of Literacy and the California Dream Act. We stopped the Legislature from creating a two-tier education system in the community colleges, but that hasn’t stopped Santa Monica College from attempting to do the same.
We also had our share of disappointments. In addition to the debilitating state budget, we were unable to stop legislation that asks school employees to administer Diastat. The Legislature opted to add another burden on the shoulders of untrained educators rather than place a qualified nurse in every school.
During this economic crisis, we must be vigilant, watching for attempts by legislators to erode seniority protections, weaken our pension plans, and promote merit pay schemes. Masquerading as market reforms, these measures would subvert the ability of working people to improve their lives.
Our members have been active in the Occupy Movement, which has given voice to the demand for change brought about by the growing economic disparity in this country. CFT has joined with statewide labor and community coalitions, such as Refund California, to develop a
common strategy around a broad progressive agenda.
A year ago, I ran for president as part of a team with Jeff Freitas. You made a wise decision last year to elect Jeff secretary-treasurer. He is smart, dedicated, and tireless in his commitment to CFT. You also elected a knowledgeable Executive Council, and CFT employs one of the best staffs in the labor movement.
We talked about energizing our union to resist the budget attacks and the assault on public education. We
talked about building political power by forging alliances with community partners. Both of those ideals have guided us during the past year, in our work on the Millionaires Tax and the new merged tax initiative.
The importance of working with our key community partners, California Calls, ACCE and the Courage Campaign, cannot be overstated. We are broadening this coalition to tackle issues such as Proposition 13 and development of a grassroots campaign to reform education.
Our work on the Millionaires Tax has built a solid foundation for the future and taught us valuable lessons. One year ago Gov. Brown called for a Special Election to raise revenue by regressive taxation. Because of our efforts, and the simultaneous emergence of the Occupy and Student Movements, the governor finally agreed to work with us on a merged tax initiative.
The new measure is an overwhelmingly progressive income tax measure, the most ambitious in California history. No major union in California but CFT took the lead in this effort. Not bad for what the press described as a “backwater union.”
Labor is strongest when it acts in its own interests and is not beholden to any political party. That doesn’t mean we don’t work with elected leaders, only that we build power independently and with our community allies.
Had CFT signed on to the governor’s measure early on, as other unions did, the governor would have had no reason to minimize the regressive elements or increase the progressive portions. As a result of our work, California now has a stronger, more progressive measure. That is the strength of CFT working in coalition.
The abrupt end of the Millionaires Tax came as a shock and was a major disappointment for many people in the state. While the new merged measure is a huge victory for CFT and our partners, we could have done some things differently in the process of compromise. We will learn from this experience and we will get better.
The Millionaires Tax resonated with the public, but in assessing our ability to move forward we had to weigh our capacity to wage a successful campaign. We could have qualified the measure for the ballot, but we were unlikely to marshall resources beyond what CFT, AFT, and our community partners could provide to run even a minimal campaign. Throughout this effort, we had strong backing from the AFT and President Randi Weingarten.
Some believed that even a symbolic effort would have been worth pursuing, but a symbolic initiative with minimal resources to win would have been politically and financially irresponsible. Others have speculated that the populist nature of the tax-the-wealthy measure and the growing political movement would have carried the
Millionaires Tax. CFT will be active in that emerging movement, but it will not be forged in one election cycle.
The merged measure is not everything we wanted. It retains a small regressive element and has no permanent income tax increase on the wealthy. But the income tax increase on individuals making more than $250,000 per year will generate $8 billion in the first year alone, the largest single tax increase on the rich in California history.
The seven years of increased income tax revenue will give us time to push for needed changes such as ensuring that commercial property owners pay taxes based on fair market value. Working with our community partners, CFT can help build the kind of political power necessary to take on these issues.
No union has used its resources more effectively, or wisely, than CFT. We are willing to dig a little deeper and support our political work. We can defeat the Corporate Deception Act ballot measure this November, a power grab that would hand over the political process to corporations and the wealthy. We cannot let that happen.
Your vision, your activism, and your continued dedication to unionism have caused the governor of the largest state in the United States to do the right thing. For your commitment to making CFT a leading force for progressive change in California, you have earned the admiration of union and community activists throughout the nation.